By Emma Elshaw
I had the opportunity to interview Chantal Huinink, Coordinator of Organizational and Spiritual Life at Christian Horizons, Dr. Neil Cudney, President of Emmanuel Bible College, as well as Holly Lobbezoo, Office Manager and Program Facilitator at Dramaway, for this two-part blog post. We are thankful for their input into this important topic.
Last week, we looked at how both dependency and isolation can be factors in creating vulnerability amongst those who experience a disability. Today, let’s look at two more factors, and how we can help to reduce the risk of exploitation for those in our circles.
3. Because of their disability
In addition to being dependent on others and being isolated, those experiencing a disability may be more at risk of being exploited due to the overall vulnerability that comes with having a disability. For some, they can’t say anything (because they can’t speak), or they can’t move or see or hear, etc. This can create some clear limitations and vulnerabilities. For example, someone who is blind wouldn’t be able to see and read someone’s body language when they speak to them. For those with intellectual disabilities, they often don’t understand social cues and may just go along with what people say, without questioning it. According to Holly Lobbezoo, Office Manager and Program Facilitator at Dramaway, an arts program designed for all abilities, those experiencing a disability are “taught how to behave, what to say, what not to say,” which could all work to a trafficker’s advantage. “They could ask the wrong person for help or believe something someone is saying [simply] because they are an adult and therefore ‘trustworthy’,” adds Holly. For some experiencing a disability, there is an “inability to know the difference between a safe person and not a safe person,” says Chantal Huinink, Coordinator of Organizational and Spiritual Life at Christian Horizons. There is a clear link between inherently trusting an individual and vulnerability for those experiencing a disability.
4. Social Prejudice
Finally, there is a lot of social prejudice surrounding those who experience a disability. There are attitudes that the general public have regarding the inherent worth and value of those with a disability, which places them “at risk of abuse and violence.” Furthermore, if they do experience abuse and exploitation, many are not believed even if they say something. Moreover, according to Chantal Huinink, it takes that much more for them to say something because there’s the possibility that they could lose their care - the care they need to carry out daily tasks.
Because of this social prejudice and the subconsciously (or consciously) understood idea that those experiencing a disability somehow are of less value and worth than others, they are at a higher risk of being abused and exploited. As we see with other minorities, such as those in the BIPOC community, traffickers target those who “wouldn’t necessarily be missed,” notes Dr. Neil Cudney, President of Emmanuel Bible College. This is a sad but all too true reality, and the statistics are staggering. For example, the Indigenous population comprises approximately 4% of the female Canadian population, and yet represents about 50% of women being trafficked. This is a reality that needs to change.
So, what now? Now that we have the information, what do we do with it? Education about people with disabilities is very important. “Everyone spends so much time trying to get people who are ‘different’ to fit the mould of general society,” says Holly Lobbezoo. What if we stopped trying to make everyone the same, and appreciated everyone for who they are, no matter how different? What if society embraced everyone’s special gifts? What if there were places where people experiencing a disability could truly be welcomed into? Many faith-based communities do just that, or they should. “In the Christian tradition, those more vulnerable people are meant to be brought into the centre of the community and protected,” says Dr. Neil Cudney. “When they are brought into the centre of communities, the whole community is watching, caring and aware of what is going on and becomes that hedge of protection for one another. We need to recognize that shared responsibility to one another in caring for each other.”